I AM SO LUCKY!

WARNING: FRIDAY FEELINGS OF GRATITUDE!

Sometimes I find myself in self-imposed positions of stress and anxiety with the projects I create and the workload I give myself. Some people think I am crazy, some people tell me I am a fool to give so much of myself for so little (financial) reward. Some people just don’t get it and look at me like I am a lunatic who doesn’t know what she is doing!

But here is the catch…

I LOVE WHAT I DO! And I mean LOVE LOVE LOVE what I do!

It gives me no greater pleasure than seeing faces transform, sharing stories, producing and giving positive energy  and creating experiences and memories.

I am SO SO fucking lucky to have the job I have and I will not stop being grateful that I am in a very fortunate position to be able to be the creative human I am, with a career that allows me to feed and house me and my child and give us an amazing life.

We are not rich! Far from it in fact. But we are full of everything we need and more!

I spent my work day today creating an epic game, dressing up, hanging out with my mate and building a pirate ship in my living room!

That was my Friday!

I AM SO FUCKING LUCKY!

I don’t always feel lucky. In fact there have been times in my life where I have felt the most unlucky person that ever lived. There have been times in my life where just breathing was a challenge. There have been times in my life where I didn’t know if I would ever feel grateful for a day…

I AM SO FUCKING LUCKY!

If you are feeling shitty or have had a bad day and can’t step out of the cloud, think of one thing. Just one thing that makes you a lucky mother trucker. One thing that makes you lucky to be where you are today…

Have a beautiful weekend you lucky duck!

 

Welcome to my fort – it has pirate ships, friends and treasure in it!

I’m a Sh*t Parent – A Mother Ruined

Oh my word, there are a lot of parenting blogs. And articles. Tutorials, books, forums, pages, groups, networks, magazines, TV programmes and websites. All dedicated to telling you how to raise your beloved spawn. Whole series are written purely to show you how to discipline your children and websites created entirely to manifest anxiety about everything – from a rash your mini human could get from just looking at the wrong piece of fruit, to ruining your kid’s life by not throwing the Kim Kardashian-West of all birthday parties.

And it has turned us into Arseholes.

In fact, after nearly 8 years of this exhausting and mind-melting maze of panic-inducing drivel, I call Bullshit.

Sorry for the language, but it is mummy time and she gets a bit sweary after hours.

I am pretty sure (with no actual research to back me up), that the levels of maternal anxiety were much lower before we all had access to literally millions of others, giving each other shitty, uninformed, subjective and snotty judgmental advice.

In fact, I think back in the day, you had your mother and grandmother who pretty much ruled the roost on the advice front and told you what to do about everything… A matriarchal system of ‘This is how it is done, so now you do the same.’ No questions asked… how bloody marvellous. (It generally involved a lot of thimbles of alcohol to knock the baby out.)

We are now at a stage where we take in so much of this shit, we are riddled with pressure, guilt and shame for not being the perfect parents. We are so insecure about our abilities we have to take Instagram pics of our #InstaKids #ParentsofInstagram and HashtagBloodyBlessed just so we have some evidence that we are OK and all is well. Proof that we are not constantly worried, broken and stress eating Doritos and Guac in bed.

Right from the get go, with feeding, nappy choices, buggy brands and the dummy dilemma. Whether to Makaton sign, use flash card systems or use a series of clicks and treats to get them to f*cking understand you. Sleeping rituals are like daily report cards and the rules on introducing food has become Pinterest’s most successful money-making scheme EVER! Skipping ahead all the way to my now present dilemmas of a suddenly hormonally charged 7 year old who has realised his willy hardens, education and that whole mess, social interactions, bullying, hobby choices, gaming and internet access, when to let them start choosing their outfits, even though they will look shit and people will stare, discipline and behaviour issues and how to tell your son it is inappropriate to pull down your swimming costume in the middle of the pool and shout ‘I just wanted to see if they would float!’ – I mean, we’ve all been there, right? (FYI: They don’t – Should they?)

I have a headache just remembering some of the stuff I had to think about when Noah was a baby and all the google searches and scrolling through Mumsnet threads. So many hours…

I mean, it is a minefield. A never-ending cycle of ‘Am I doing this right?’

No wonder we are all self-medicating on Gin and creating endless memes about it… I mean, Gin is great, but it was called Mother’s ruin because it caused infertility… we are all subconsciously closing up shop because it has literally become harder to win at parenting than getting a PhD in Neuroscience.

I am not saying that these resources are not helpful. In fact, they saved me a great many times, especially the single parent forums. And I am a huge advocate for being able to find out literally anything I want at the touch of a button and am, of course, a self-confessed You Tube addict.

But, as well as the anxiety, it just seems that this information overload has caused a wave of judgement and shaming that is still very much alive and well. So many people are telling us how to do it, a million different ways and no one actually has a fucking clue. We all are just scraping by, hoping for the best and praying they stay alive long enough to put us in a nice retirement home.

I repeat – no one is right!

But, by gosh do we think we are.

I know, because I do it too. Because I do know best. Because I am awesome and so well-meaning. No seriously, I still do it. I catch myself sometimes, knowing full well I am being a complete dick and judging someone else’s choices. But I am trying. I am a product of this over-analysing, guilt-ridden and mummy shaming culture, so I have to work really hard to keep it in check.

I watched someone be mummy-shamed the other day and it made me so violently angry and sad for that mum, I had to walk away before I pitched a fight.

So mothers of the world (and bitchy dads too), next time you feel the urge to regurgitate something you saw on a Pinterest Infographic, take a minute. Take pause before you give your stance on little Johnnie’s dummy habit or backhanded comment on Betsy’s uncoordinated and clashing outfit and go give yourself a hard smack in the face won’t you dear. Forget for a minute that you are The Baby Whisperer or a certified child psychologist and just remember back to when you were sat at home, scrolling through the forums at 3 am at your wit’s end, wondering whether adoption might have actually been a valid option.

Don’t be a dick. Parenting is hard enough. We all do it differently. Get off that high horse of yours, you are drunk, on Gin – again!

Welcome to my Fort Kids – It has unsolicited advice, parenting wisdom and sinking tits in it!

 

The Boy’s School Musical

I was going through my filing cabinets today and found my old scrapbook and photo 20170507_224006album of my school days and I came over all emotional. I hadn’t realised quite how much I had kept from back then but found every programme, ticket and poster, running orders, scripts and first night cards and letters.

Not gonna lie, had a bit of a cry… but a happy one!

1997

When I was in Year 8, I had gone with my friend Emily, down to the neighbouring boy school for an audition for the annual musical. She had not wanted to walk down by herself, so I was her wingman!

I was excited, not for the event, but the opportunity to see real life boys. They were coveted and rare during school hours, unless you snuck behind the sheds between the fields, or crossed the forbidden line in the PE department, that joined the two. #AllGirlsSchoolGoals.

I rolled up my navy skirt one more time, til the pleats had to be pulled out, so it didn’t show that I was still made to wear god-awful knee lengths, (my mum NEVER let me be cool), whipped out my Coffee Shimmer lipstick, scraped back my curly, frizzy, tangled hair and coated it with enough hairspray to kill a rainforest of spiders and flicked up my shirt collar, like I was Nicky f*cking Kenickie.

I had no intention of auditioning that day, and sat cooly in the auditorium of the main hall, as my friend proudly sang her heart out in front of a panel of Teachers and the other auditionees. I was excited for her and she looked so happy standing there. She looked like she was having so much fun, for what was ultimately a pretty terrifying thing to do.

As she finished and came down the stairs at the front of the stage, I got ready to leave and stood up. Just then, the Director, Mr Ansell, clocked me and asked if I wanted to be in the show too and would I like to have a go at reading some lines and singing a song? Everyone was leaving and I would be the last one so it would not be a big deal or anything…

Everything before that moment is slightly blurred. I never remember wanting to be anything else, other than an actor after that.

I do have a vague flashback of wanting to be Enya once, and creating contemporary interpretative dances to Kate Bush songs, but other than that, I had a one-track mind.

I was the kid who, when the school careers counsellor met with me, ripped up the comprehensive questionnaire and guidance form, with that defiant air of a cocky arsehole teenager, declaring that I didn’t need a backup plan, I was going to Drama School and going to be in the West End and that was the end of it.

I think I had to sign one of those disclosure forms for idiots like I was being discharged against medical advice. She looked at me despairingly… another dreamer that was gonna make her look shit at her job!

The first show was Blitz! And was the first of many. I officially became a Theatre Kid! I slowly drifted away from the ‘Trendy’ clique in my year group and would disappear off, every lunch time to the boy’s school, or the Drama studios to hang out and geek off with my own kind.

20170507_225148

I remember the thrill of the first day of rehearsals, sat with our scores around the piano, being yelled at By Miss Clandillon to ‘SING LOUDER’, and yelling at us to shut up periodically. That woman was terrifying and glorious and a force to be reckoned with. Going through Choreography in the School Reception and sticking my Rehearsal Schedule on top of my actual school timetable – PRIORITIES!

I recall painting sets at weekends and going to EVERY rehearsal even if I wasn’t needed. Jim used to call me his shadow and even let me Assistant Direct him once because I always annoyingly had something to say and would boss the other actors around. I even got the lead part once through this tactic. When Jasmine dropped out of Aladdin, I sat there smugly. I knew she wasn’t up for the job, I knew it was only a matter of time. I was like a patient vulture, knowing every line, scene, blocking move and note in her track. I walked on a week later as if the part had been mine the whole time.

Think Rachel Berry in Glee Club type of intense… that was me.

Then there were backstage antics, emotional last nights and crazy cast parties, with speeches, presents and sobbing hugs, like we were never going to see each other again – except for tomorrow when we all saw each other again… And even crazier ‘After Cast Parties’, which, for legal reasons, I am pretty sure I am not allowed to detail.

I had never really fit in anywhere before then. Sure I had friends, but I was always on the outskirts and never grounded or completely at ease. Suddenly I felt like I was home. I have never laughed so much and had such a good time as those heady days of being in the School Musicals.

20170507_225300One of the last shows I was in at School was Fame. The opening number, ‘Hard Work’ involved singing the lines ‘I Pray I make P.A’. The Choreographer, an awesome, young science teacher, Mr Betts, had us holding fake letters of acceptance, getting into the Performing Arts School. So when I actually got in that same week, I triumphantly, if not a little bit cheesy and dramatically, took my actual Drama School acceptance letter up onto that stage and punched it into the air with tears in my eyes. The same stage that started it all and I was saying goodbye to it in the best possible way.

Those were some of the best days of my life. It is where I started my emotional education, my life skills classes and made friendships like no other. We were a family and, although now, it is only through Facebook and the occasional sighting in a local pub or at an event, they were my family, my tribe, my people. We grew up together, worked together, dated each other (grossly incestuously in fact), lived in each other’s pockets and created some of the best memories I have.

To my School Theatre Family,

For all the laughter, shared experiences, joy, jokes and love! You taught me who I was and how to be me.

Thank You x

Welcome To My Fort Kids – It has show tunes, memories and love in it!

50 Shades of Grey – The Wardrobe Challenge!

Do you ever feel like sometimes life is a little bit grey? But not in the good silk tie kinda way?

Feeling a bit same old same old?

Bit MEH?

Need a bit of a shake up?

I often get that feeling. The need to liven things up a bit, dust the cobwebs away and reinvigorate my soul.

In fact, I have this habit of moving the furniture around in my house every 6 months, just so I feel like the room is new. Does anyone else do this, or am I slowly turning into Lawrence Lewellyn-Bowen? I think I watch too many makeover shows and have an unhealthy addiction to Pinterest, but it always makes me feel energised and fresh, even if it is short term.

I have been having that feeling again recently, but rather than my home decor it is ME!

THE WARDROBE CHALLENGE!

I truly believe that the way we feel on the inside is usually reflected on the outside and Visa Versa.

I have never really been someone who thinks about fashion or adheres to trends or style.  I never had the cool trainers or bought into brands and logo adorned clothing, apart from one Addidas tracksuit that I lived in throughout 1999. In fact, I have always been someone who really doesn’t give a crap about their looks all that much and is a staunch comfort queen.

3 years of wearing nothing but monochrome jogging bottoms and old, stained tops at Drama School, rolling around on top of each other in dusty studios, no makeup on, hair scraped back, rubbing your face in warm-ups and generally looking like a deranged foetus, whilst sounding out the atmosphere of the ocean, does not a glamour puss make!

All the energy for looking good went into performances. That was dress up time. Fancy, colourful costumes, thick war paint on and corsets, heels and Spanx shaping your body into unnatural spinal contortions. Pretty hurts, but it’s so much fun!

And don’t even get me started on being a mummy and how the exhaustion, sheer amount of vomit, faeces, snot and other bodily fluids ruin your appetite for getting dressed whatsoever. I literally spent the first 3 years of motherhood in the same bloody hoodie and yoga pants just to keep the laundry pile smaller.

I did go through a phase of cute dresses when I went back to work but generally have always been best friends with oversized cardigans, floaty yoga pants, work boots and my good old trusty leggings. I am quite a cold person as well, so love a good scarf to add to the pile of material, hiding everything about me.

For work I will make an effort though- I am not a complete disaster. I do have nice clothes and a crazy awesome collection of Poetic Licence and Irregular Choice shoes, (that I don’t really wear because I don’t wear heels – but hey, they are sooooo pwetty!)

Outside of my job, however, I tend to wear the same thing over and over again. I play it safe and like an easy life. A lot of grey, black, navy and brown… Plus, choosing outfits in the morning, when you have to get a reluctant 7 year old out the door, is just too much like hard work! I am generally rocking a bird’s nest hairdo being held up by a pen from my handbag, my child’s socks, because I didn’t pair mine up and a tea stained cardy. HOT!!!!

Now, I am not saying I am about to start dressing like one of those yummy mummies that I hate, with their Hunter wellies, riding jodhpurs and £100 Joules macs on – good god, you live in the suburbs – not rural Oxfordshire! PUT DOWN THE TWEED!

But who am I to judge? They probably think I am in my pyjamas!

MACIGAL CLOTHING!

So, I was at work the other week and was wearing a new wrap dress-coat I had bought. Nothing too fancy, but I loved it and decided it was right for the job I was doing. A character choice if you will.

At the end of the session, a client came up to me and said that she had wanted to tell me how she thought I was beautiful. How the way I moved, held myself and generally my presence always struck her and how she just had to tell me that she thought I was stunning! She continued on for 5 minutes and we ended up having a lovely discussion about how women needed to boost each other more often. (Feel kinda shit about the Farmer’s wives now!)

So WOW! Not only to get such an ego-boosting compliment at all but for such a beautiful thing to say to a woman who considers herself to look more like Oscar the Grouch, was such a touching moment. Compliments can be hard to take, but this one had me all goosebumpy and welling up inside.

Now, apart from the fact that I walk away from the session, sashaying to my car like I am Queen Bey at the Grammys, it also got me to thinking.

I am my most confident at work, for sure, so that plays a huge part. My entire job is to have presence and charisma and to work a crowd etc. so that all makes sense. Energy and engagement are what I do, whether I am acting, facilitating, speaking in public or teaching. They all require me to BE ON! So of course people get that from me, because I am doing it on purpose.

But, I also think it was the DRESS!

It wasn’t a sexy outfit by any means. In fact, it was a huge floaty burgundy thing that I thought made me look like a wizard for a job I was doing on The Tempest! But I felt awesome in it. I felt like magic!

So, I want to set myself a new challenge! Not a huge one but one that is going to require some effort!

I am going to take a stab at dressing to feel a bit more badass – just for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not about to throw away my cardigan collection just yet, or start buying the latest waxed jacket, but I am going to make bolder choices. I need to change things up a bit, make time to reflect my personality a bit more and to dress in ways that make me feel, well a little bit more magic!

This sounds like quite a superficial challenge, but is ultimately about confidence and self-care as well, about bringing the colour back into my wardrobe that I love so much and have slacked on in recent years. I am going to start showing off my body instead of hiding it under mountains of layers.

So today, as I go off for the day, I am wearing a bright yellow dress and have dyed my hair red! (I have a cardigan in my bag, just in case!)

Welcome to my Fort Kids – It has colours, confidence and sashaying badasses in it! 

 

I’m not always ok – AND THAT’S OK!!!

Have you ever curled up on the cold floor of a coffee shop toilet in Camden Town?

Hyperventilating and wanting to jump out of your own skin? Sobbing and clutching your heart because you are pretty sure you are dying and the 1st person to find you will be the ridiculously hot Portuguese Barista… Who is now banging on the door, to see if you are ok, and to kindly let you know that there is a young child about to wee all over the newly mopped floor and, he would rather not have to do it again, as it is closing time soon and he has a lot to do. So you smear the mascara streaks across your face and grab on to the handrail as you unlock the door and put on your best ‘I’m OK’ face and politely sit back down at your seat, pretending that death is not imminent and your head is not about to explode, whilst smoothing down your hair to still look cute to Barista Boy, who clearly thinks you are a f***ing nut job! Awesome.

No? Well, this is awkward then.

And it is awkward. It is dizzyingly mortifying and something that you don’t want anyone to know about you, for fear of seeming weak or incapable at work, at home, as a parent or just as a functioning human being.

I suffer from Anxiety and Panic attacks. And it is exhausting! But it is also Beautiful!

The coffee shop meltdown occurred a couple of weeks ago. I was on my way to the Improv class I had booked as a part of the #FaceYourFearsChallenge from an earlier post “What’s the worst that can happen?” – Falling down to Succeed – But things had taken a turn before I even got there.

IT ALL STARTED WITH A HUG! 

I have been struggling recently. With an overwhelming amount of work, single parent juggling, co-parenting issues, family drama and some physical health issues which have made all of the above, a lot harder to manage. In short, my brain got too full and I forgot to let it breathe!

A couple of weeks ago I was catching up with a beautiful friend of mine, who asked me how I was doing. I could have just said I was fine and moved on to other things, but there are some people who just make you feel safe. Do you have friends like that? I don’t have many, so they are rare and to be treasured. So, It was a big catch up and a lot of shiz had gone down. When I finally finished telling her everything that was going on, she gave me that look. The look of someone watching the sinking ship, while I am happily waving from the upper deck, playing with a spinning top. And she said, “I can’t believe you are holding it all together.”

AND THEN SHE HUGGED ME!

Now, this was a hug! Not just your run of the mill quick squeeze, or sympathetic rub on the back, but one of those hugs… you know, the real f***ing deal hugs that mean something. I don’t get an awful lot of physical contact with other humans apart from the spawn, who is a bony mass of elbows and monkey feet and makes cuddling a wrestling match within seconds, or decides to use me a climbing frame and ends up with his feet in my face or worse… you get the picture, so hugs are pretty much like finding a tenner in your coat pocket!

It is amazing how physically our body’s chemical reactions are so intrinsically linked to our emotional state. This is something that fascinates me and I speak a lot about for my job, so will leave it for another post. But, it is true!

That hug was the first moment in 8 months that I had opened the jam-packed storage closet and everything came flying out. I hadn’t acknowledged that I actually wasn’t that Ok and that I hadn’t really thought about myself or how I was coping with any of it at all.

MASSIVE FAIL! And I should know better.

Sometimes all we need is a hug. In fact, it is essential for our health – I now declare hugs be mandatory for every human at least twice a day! Wouldn’t that be awesome!

The #CoffeeShopMeltDown happened 5 days later. I happened to have seen this very same friend again and having been processing 8 months of crap all week, had given myself migraines, had about 4 hours sleep in as many days, not eaten all week and survived on Anxiety’s worst best friend – coffee!

So all in all, not a great combination or very clever. (My Blurt Buddy Box arrived the very next day, as if by magic!)

So, anyway, seeing this friend, in an environment, where I was having all sorts of nostalgic and emotional thoughts about, was pretty much the last compartment to fill, before the stern rose in the air and the whole ship snapped in half, crashing into the icy waters of doom.

By the time I got to my Improv class, I was so exhausted, drained and smelling a little bit like bathroom disinfectant, that I wasn’t even thinking about being nervous or fearful about it. In fact, it was the only thing that week that felt truly grounding and made me feel like myself again. I was at peace finally and could breathe and just be. The great thing about improv is you just have to say yes, so, the act of letting go of having to try or think for 2 hours, was the most euphoric experience I could have had. We played for 2 hours, made some stupid shit up, created some worlds and told some seriously weird stories. It was perfect. I was with my people, my tribe, rolling around on the floor together, making a giant boat! It was my lifeboat.

Here is the real take away from the tale. The very thing I feared, was, in fact, the cure! It always has been actually and it is the most powerful medicine!

Another person who found it was actress, poet, singer and extraordinary human, Brigitte Aphrodite.

Brigitte Aphrodite, (and yes, that is her real name), is one of those rare creatures, whoMBBD+FLYER manages to instantly fill the room with an infectious and addictive energy – just with her smile. I don’t usually girl-crush, but she is for sure my new BAE!

Brigitte and her other half, the insanely talented, humble and equally beautiful human, Quiet Boy, have created a show about Depression called ‘My Beautiful Black Dog’ – and it is CRESHENDORIOUS!

This is one of the songs in the glitter-filled, manic and heart-wrenchingly honest piece of Theatre, a rare unicorn. A magical storytelling adventure, directed beautifully by Laura Keefe, of one woman’s journey through depression and her relationship with the man who watched it all happen is a #nofilters moment in the world of talking about Mental Health.

Brigitte herself described the creative process as therapy and you can see why. The very acknowledgement of the beast and how it manifested itself, is picked through with a sharp, scratchy nit comb. And it is beautiful.

I was so moved by her willingness to give herself to her audience, so freshly raw and physically open, that I dare anyone not to be moved and touched by them and their story.

You left, glittered up, shimmied out and a little bit of a better human being.

For me though, it came a week after #CoffeeShopToiletGate and the Improv class and suddenly everything started to seem OK again. I had a rough few weeks, mainly because I stopped listening to my body and didn’t treat myself very kindly. It happens.

My Beautiful Black Dog doesn’t sugarcoat the ending, in fact, it ended with Brigitte saying that, it wasn’t the kind of story where ‘She could see clearly now the rain had gone’, but more like, she had a f*cking good raincoat now!

Storms come and they go, but it is always important to be prepared and to have a plan, or even someone to hold the umbrella or to throw you a whistle. Brigitte, Quiet Boy and all the other Theatre makers, musicians and artists, including me, need to keep telling the stories that we all need to hear, with honesty, bravery and love that collectively gives us that deep, releasing and safe hug, that tells us, we can all sail the weathers and it is all going to be OK!

1 in 6 people in the UK will experience a common mental health issue in their lifetime.

With global campaigns like #HeadsTogether coming out with massive coverage, Brigitte with Theatre like #MBBD and local community organisations raising the game, if you need to talk about something or are affected by any of these issues, please do. I am not a mental health expert, but am always here, with a good ear and a cuppa tea! 

Welcome to my fort kids – It’s got glitter, hugs and life-rafts in it! 

My Beautiful Black Dog was a part of Paint the Town Festival @PTT-Festival and Looping the Loop Festival @LoopingThanet, in conjunction with @Battersea_Arts.

Find Brigitte @bbbrigitte and Quiet Boy @Quietbuoy

and thanks to @LyriciArts @IMHPMedway @Rethink_ for the Q&A Panel on Mental Health in the Arts.

Featured Image courtesy of #Bananagrams from Megan Garrett Jones at #ArtBop

And huge thanks to the person who knows who she is – she came back with more boats!